The retailer has given a fresh look to its Barbican shop, installing digital screens, a revamped welcome desk, a sushi bar and new-look wine merchandising with modern lighting and wooden racks.
But in an exclusive interview with Retail Week – his first since succeeding Mark Price as boss in April – Waitrose managing director Rob Collins said “the biggie” is the introduction of ‘The Kitchen’, a new food service counter that offers customers meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all cooked in store.
Fresh food including avocado on sourdough toast and potato omelettes for breakfast, sandwiches and salads for lunch and curries at dinner time are prepared by in-store chefs in an open kitchen.
Since opening last month, Collins said the new proposition has attracted a healthy spread of trade, around half of which comes at lunchtime, with the remaining 50% of sales split evenly between breakfast and dinner.
Collins said ‘The Kitchen’ is central to his drive to “create something that is a convenient pleasure for people.”
Building on that overarching aim, Waitrose has also refreshed its butcher and fishmonger counters in a bid to “make them more accessible to customers.”
Shoppers can purchase individual cuts of meat or fish to cook at home as they wish, or opt for foil trays filled with all the ingredients required for meals including steaks, meatballs, pork medallions, tuna or salmon, which can be simply cooked in the oven.
Collins said by revamping the role of the counters, Waitrose had created “a halfway house between a service counter and a ready meal”.
Similar stores containing ‘The Kitchen’ and new-look counters will open in Twyford, in Buckinghamshire, and Chandlers Ford, in Hampshire, during the first quarter of 2017, kick-starting Collins’ drive to refresh Waitrose’s entire portfolio within the next three years.
“One of the big decisions I’ve made since I started [as managing director] has been re-directing investment into revamping stores, rather than opening new stores,” Collins explained.
“This is a journey we started a while ago but we are really turbo-charging it now.
“I talk about Waitrose being ‘even more Waitrose’ and what you see in this store really plays to that.”
Discussing the thinking behind the revamp, Collins added: “When customers come into our shops, does it meet all of their needs? We are trying to anticipate what we think customers need.
“So the number one aim is saying: ‘let’s make sure we are receptive to how customers want to shop with us.
“There are some very clear trends that everyone is experiencing – more frequent shops, more baskets per household – so we have to think about how we layout our shops to meet those needs.
“People are buying into the food service sector more and more, which is why it’s grown so fast, so we have to respond to that.
“For me it’s about saying, when you come into a Waitrose shop, it meets those needs as well.”
Collins said trading during the first few weeks at the Barbican store had been “really positive” and added: “Early customer feedback and the early sales numbers we’re hearing are really encouraging. But it’s one shop.
“That’s why over the next three years we need to redirect investment out of new space into existing stores like this.”
- Read our exclusive interview with Rob Collins in full in Retail Week’s first magazine of the New Year